The term “chocolate industry” is a broad way of describing all players in the commercial chocolate production cycle. Everyone from local cocoa farmers and harvesters through to executive marketers, sales agents, and advertising associates is included. The industry is truly international, spanning people and companies in nearly every country.
Although a great many people and processes are involved, the chocolate industry can usually be broken down into three broad categories or stages. First comes harvesting, which involves farmers, laborers, and buyers of raw cocoa beans. Next is production, where the beans are shipped, processed, and turned into chocolate. Finally is sales, distribution, and marketing, when the chocolate products reach the market and fight for consumer attention. Anyone involved in any part of these processes can properly be described as a part of the chocolate industry.
All chocolate and chocolate-based products are derived from cocoa beans. Cocoa beans do not grow widely, however. They are usually limited to certain swaths of Central America and Western Africa. Those who grow and control cocoa bean plantations are thus an essential part of the chocolate industry.
One of the biggest sources of controversy in the chocolate industry is the fair treatment and wages of cocoa plantation laborers. Many major chocolate brands have been accused of human rights violations in the name of profit or increased production. In response to this criticism, many of the world’s chocolate manufacturers have their products certified as “fair trade.” This designation indicates that the company’s hiring and payment practices are ethical and humane according to internationally recognized standards.
Chocolate production happens when the beans are shipped to processing plants, then cleaned, roasted, and turned into the cocoa powder that is foundational to most chocolates. Cocoa powder is used in several different ways. Sometimes it is simply sweetened, flavored, and augmented for sale as a hot chocolate mix or base. It can also be combined with milk or wax solids to create chocolate bars for baking or eating, or formed into chocolate confections of varying types. There are many different chocolate products in production at any given time.
Once the products are made, they must be packaged, branded, and prepared for shipment. In the gourmet chocolate industry, sales are often localized. Larger companies and international brands often distribute more widely. Chocolate export is a major business in many parts of the world, but this opens up an entirely different sector of the chocolate industry: that related to business and marketing strategy.
Executives in the chocolate industry must understand and follow international export laws, which often include such things as labeling restrictions and pricing parameters. Even at home, there is a lot of thought that must go into how chocolate products are sold, distributed, and advertised. Most of the time, manufacturers invest resources into understanding discreet chocolate market dynamics, such that sales campaigns can be targeted specifically to certain communities.